The Jesus and Mary Chain

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1989 promo shot for the album 'Automatic'
1989 promo shot for the album 'Automatic'

The Jesus and Mary Chain were a British Indie rock band that revolved around the songwriting partnership of brothers Jim Reid and William Reid. Hailing from East Kilbride in Scotland, they released a constant string of albums, singles and EPs until their demise in 1999.



In much the same way as The Smiths, The Mary Chain originally revolved around the songwriting partnership of its two main members. To fully realise their vision of the band, the Reid brothers recruited bassist Douglas Hart and drummer Murray Galglish. The latter was quickly replaced in favour of Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, and the band recorded their debut single, Upside Down, that would be released in October 1984 on Creation Records. Though the single received universal critical acclaim from the British music press, and the band were championed fanatically by the NME, it was their live shows that drew them the most attention and notoriety.

Controversial by design, the Mary Chain's early gigs have become the stuff of legend in indie circles. Playing in front of small audiences, the Mary Chain earned their notoriety by playing very short gigs, some lasting no more than 10 minutes and consisting of a either the mangling of a couple of covers songs or a constant wall of feedback and distortion, as well as playing with their backs to the audience and refusing to speak to them. Any reporters or photographers from the music press would be verbally insulted and spat at. Many shows culminated with the Reids trashing their equipment, which was often followed by the audience rioting. All of this delighted manager and Creation Records boss Alan McGee, who obviously found it very easy to get attention for the band. He would simply make sure people from the music press were present while these events naturally transpired, and so ensuring blanket coverage in the music papers.

The violence that followed the band's every action culminated in an event that is now a part of indie folklore. On March 15, 1985, the Mary Chain played a gig at the North London Polytechnic in front of one of their largest crowds up to that point. Support band Meat Whiplash had stirred up violence before the Mary Chain even set foot onto the stage by throwing a wine bottle into the audience. By the time the Mary Chain started their short set, the audience was already in the mood for violence, and because of the size of the audience, the riot that occurred was far bigger and wilder than any other that had occurred at a Mary Chain gig. The music press were present at the show, and this event subsequently became known as "The Jesus and Mary Chain Riot".

The same year, the band signed to Blanco y Negro and released the You Trip Me Up and Never Understand singles which were soon followed by their debut album Psychocandy. The album fused together the Reid's two primary influences, the indie guitar noise of The Velvet Underground with the '60s pop leanings of Phil Spector and The Beach Boys. The record received unanimously positive reviews and is now considered a landmark recording. Following the release of the follow up single Some Candy Talking, Bobby Gillespie left to front Primal Scream on a full time basis. He was replaced with John Moore, though he was gone as well by the release of the band's second album, Darklands, in September 1987 (Moore went on to form Black Box Recorder with Luke Haines). Featuring a more melodic sound, the album was recorded almost entirely by the Reids themselves, replacing live drums with a drum machine, and received overwhelmingly positive reviews by the British music press.

The band's live shows, at one time considered the most exciting element of the band and the reason for most of their success, were now overshadowed by their records. In 1987 and 1988 they toured without a drummer, instead employing a roadie to play a tape of drum tracks through the PA system. The gigs were very poorly received and they quickly reverted back to live drums, drafting in Richard Thomas for two years, subsequently replaced by Steve Monti in 1990. The fluid nature of the Mary Chain's line up continued throughout their entire career, with a revolving door of drummers, bassists and guitarists being recruited for TV appearances and gigs whenever they were required, the only constants being the Reid brothers.

Following the odds-n-sods collection Barbed Wire Kisses in 1988 and constant touring, the album Automatic was released in September 1989. Boasting heavy use of synthesized bass and keyboards, the album was not received quite as well as its predecessors though it was still a strong, consistent album, and contained the singles Head On and the Dylan ode, Blues From a Gun. By this time, the violence that was originally associated with the band was practically non-existent and the Reid brothers were being less antagonistic and aggressive in general. It seemed that they had calmed down.

They proved their detractors wrong with their next single, Reverence. Spitting feedback and punk rock bile in every direction, the track was banned from Radio and the video was banned from TV play due to its potentially offensive lyrics ("I wanna die just like JFK, I wanna die in the USA".) The Reid brothers had not calmed down after all, proving that they could still rage, kick and spit with the best of them. The single was followed by the release of the album Honey's Dead in 1992. Following the tour to support the album and the release of another compilation of odds-n-sods, The Sound of Speed, they returned to the studio to record their fifth album proper, the largely acoustic Stoned & Dethroned which would see release in 1994.

Following the final album in their odds-n-sods trilogy, 1995's Hate Rock N' Roll, the Mary Chain parted ways with Blanco y Negro, their record label of over a decade, and signed to American indie rock label Sub Pop. For Sub Pop they recorded 1998's Munki album, which would turn out to be their last before splitting the following year. Though it was not until October 1999 that the split was made official, on September 12 1998 the Reid brothers had a falling out onstage during a sold out gig at Chicago's famous House of Blues club about 15 minutes into their set. William left the band following that show and the band finished up their US and Japanese dates without him.

In 2005, some six years after the Mary Chain split up, their Heat track, taken from the Sound of Speed compilation, was used in a television advertising campaign for Coor's Beer in the UK.

William Reid went solo as Lazycame and Jim Reid founded Freeheat.


The Jesus and Mary Chain are easily one of the most influential bands of all time in indie circles. Their debut album Psychocandy, along with the Cocteau Twins, was a huge influence on the British Shoegazing movement of the late '80s as well as on numerous American bands. The Mary Chain's influence remains to this day, an influence that has been confirmed by the numerous cover versions of Mary Chain songs. Contemporary bands such as The Raveonettes simply would not exist without the Mary Chain's influence. However, it could be said that the Mary Chain's great legacy was the realization that punk rock/industrial noise was not diametrically opposed to pop melody, that the two could be woven together into music far more than the sum of its parts.




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